MandrakeSoft eyes up AMD's Opteron

The Linux company will add its support to AMD's upcoming 64-bit server platform, increasing support for the chip

MandrakeSoft will adapt its distribution of Linux to AMD's next-generation chip platform, the companies said on Thursday. The announcement is a boost for AMD's x86-64 architecture, which will power the Opteron server processor next year and a new Athlon desktop chip near the end of this year. Mandrake Linux is one of the most popular distributions of the open-source operating system.

The chips, which will debut later this year, are an important next step for AMD. Not only will they have the job of carrying forward the company's successes with Athlon, but also they will play a huge role in the chipmaker's plans for future growth in servers.

And Mandrakesoft hopes the move will also help drive its Linux operating system into the enterprise. "A version of Mandrake Linux dedicated to these powerful 64-bit processors can certainly accelerate MandrakeSoft's growing adoption in the Linux corporate market," said MandrakeSoft chief executive Jacques Le Marois in a statement.

The software will become available early next year, when Opteron is also set to launch. MandrakeSoft released a version of its software for Intel's competing Itanium chip last year.

AMD has gone to substantial efforts to court the developers for the Linux platform, which has become particularly popular in the market for 32-bit Web servers. Other Linux vendors, such as SuSE, have already announced x86-64 support. Microsoft is also making a version of Windows for x86-64.

AMD will be targeting this market with Opteron, which will allow 32-bit users to shift to 64-bit computing at their leisure.

This is a different approach to that taken by Intel with Itanium, which can only reach full performance with 64-bit code.

The x86-64 technology works by adding several new instructions to the current x86 processor architecture so that it can address 64 bits of data, making for enhanced performance, though mostly for servers. It allows a chip to address much larger amounts of memory than current AMD Athlon and Intel Pentium x86-based chips, which address 32 bits of data, meaning that a server can use a much larger amount of RAM, improving access times by minimising its need to seek out data on a hard drive. The x86-64 allows AMD chips to support both 32- and 64-bit addressing.

AMD has demonstrated Opteron delivering high performance, but industry analysts say the company will have a hard time breaking into the server market, which is dominated by a few big players such as IBM, Sun and HP.

In addition, the company has not yet established a compelling message around x86-64, which was code-named Hammer, according to analysts. "People buy not only on reality, but on their perception of reality, and that needs to be manipulated in a marketing message," said Gartner analyst Brian Gammage. "They haven't established that yet for Hammer."

CNET's Michael Kannellos and John G. Spooner contributed to this report.

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